Thursday, April 11, 2013

Education is Power.

 There is always so much happening in Haiti that it becomes hard to find time to blog and share the news of what we are working on in Haiti. I encourage you to check out the "For I was Hungry" facebook page for more frequent updates:

I made it to Haiti last Tuesday morning after a little hiccup in travel plans. The 1.5 weeks that I have been back to my second home have been wonderful, but extremely fast. The staff seemed to maintain a lot of the changes while I was gone, but there is still work to do.

Market day

Unfortunately, the staff was still using Maggi when I returned to Haiti. This past week, however, I took away Maggi and challenged them to use the herbs and spice we have in the cupboards and can find at the market. The first day of the challenge was great! I actually thought they did a fabulous job making a tasty creation. The kids managed to find out there was no Maggi in the lunch. They grumbled as they walked in (mentally setting themselves up for not liking the food). Many children gave me a face like "this is going to be so gross" Seriously. I was getting pretty heated. Thankfully, my friend was in the cafeteria with me.  I had her educate the kids about why there was no Maggi going to be used at the feeding center anymore. Might I add, I was very impressed with the amount of information she had retained from me (more on this later). She made her points and asked the kids if they had any questions. No one seemed to have them so they all started eating.

Everyone was eating just fine, except the older boys at the table next to me. I got up from the table I was sitting at and asked them what the problem was. They commented about needing Maggi. A little irritated, I asked them if they even know what Maggi was. "It makes my food taste good." said one of the boys in Creole. I pressed-on, "okay, well do you even know what is IN Maggi?" and one of them responds, "spice!" ... I chuckled a little and informed them that Maggi is a packet of artificial flavor that is composed of salt, rice flour, MSG, sugar, vegetable and animal fat, "flavor identical to natural and artificial spices" (garlic, onion, and parsley), and coloring. Sooo basically there really isn't that much flavor to Maggi besides sodium, salt, fat, and fake seasonings. There is no REAL added nutritional benefits. I told them they need to learn to enjoy the fresh flavor of foods. They will learn to like them, and that sometimes we just eat things because we know they are good for us EVEN if we know we don't like or LOVE them. I have no time for FOOD PERFECTIONISM here, folks.

Bulgur and beans WITHOUT Maggi
After my little talk, the boys ate their meal and didn't complain again. We have been pushing forward with this action of NO Maggi and several people (including medical staff) have complained about the food not tasting good. My response is always GIVE IT A FEW WEEKS. YOUR TASTE-BUDS WILL ADAPT. It just drives me CRAZY how much people rely on Maggi... you see it everywhere here in Haiti. The cute little foil packet with chickens all over it--- cute on the outside, "tasty" on the palate, but contributing to chronic health problems on the inside. Instead of being addicted to drugs and smoking, I am convinced people are addicted to Maggi.  Maybe it is not so much the "addiction" but it is the LEARNED BEHAVIOR OF USING MAGGI (for cooking) and THE LEARNED BEHAVIOR FOR TASTING MAGGI. Well, we are in the "unlearning" and "untraining" process... once we are past the "hump" hopefully there will be new flavors and tastes that "stick"... and the enjoyment of actually tasting real, natural food will be strong enough that they won't regress.

Meet Maggi. 

I might need to make this a research project and entitle it: The effects of removing Maggi from your diet. Track physiological changes, brain chemistry changes, lab values and their changes, perception, behavioral changes.....

Enough with "Maggi" We've got all kinds of NATURAL FLAVORS we can find in Haiti...and this is only just a few of them. People in Haiti are already using them. THE MESSAGE: SAVE YOUR MONEY---AND JUST DON'T BUY MAGGI. 

Last week, I really started diving deeper into my experience here in Haiti. I am trying to learn more from the Haitian people themselves, and to allow them to be my teachers too. You really can learn a lot by just asking questions...lots of questions. My friends aren't shy and most are willing to share with me about their lives. I am enjoying asking lots of questions, and hope to ask more over the course of the next few weeks. It helps me to better "assess" the psycho-social status of the population, the barriers I might face in my work, and ways I can better get the message across.... BUT even more than that, it is helping me to REALLY get to know some of the staff, and understand what their lives are like. I'd have to say that I do genuinely care and love the people I work with. The Haitians that I have come to know and that have been teachers to me along the way are incredible people. Many of them have passions and visions, have withstood some pretty traumatic and devastating situations, and continue to be press on. Many of the younger generations are open to change--- open to exploring ideas and inspiring creativity. I like that. Most people that see Haiti on the news and in the media don't see this side of Haiti.
He gave me free ble (bulgur) in the market, so I made him some bread with it! 


Earlier in this blog, I mentioned how my friend is learning and retaining a lot. Well, last week I had a chance to sit one -on-one with her outside of our busy work day to just chat. We were working on questions for an interview for another blogger and organization. I really learned a lot about my student during that conversation. She shared with me some information about her mom, and her recent health troubles. Back in January, I learned that my friend's mother was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. I saw this as a "golden" opportunity to motivate my  friend and drive this message of PREVENTION AND GOOD NUTRITION HOME. I gave her some resources about diabetes in creole and told her that she should really teach her mom about what we are doing at Grace Cafe. Well, my afriend took that message home, and shared with me some exciting news about what she did for her mom. Since her mom was diagnosed with diabetes, she has been cooking food for her mom and making her eat more balanced (more vegetables, whole grains, less meat, and a moderate amount of oil). When her mom went to the doctor after several months of eating better, her blood pressure and blood glucose levels went done. She even had lost some weight. Supposedly friends were commenting on how healthy her mother looks now. After the appointment, my friend received a phone call from her mother's doctor. He had said that the mother told him her daughter had been cooking for her and helping her eat better--- he wanted to know what she did! As my friend told me the story, she was grinning from ear-to-ear and giggling a bit. The excitement in her eyes and in her face told me that she was proud of how she was able to help her mother and how the doctors were even contacting her for advice! She continued to share with me that her message has gone farther than just to her mother. She has also talked to her brother a lot about good nutrition, and he and his co-workers call her to ask questions. When her nephew comes over to eat, she makes him more than just rice and makes him eat a variety of foods. EVEN if he doesn't like them, she is persistent with him and makes him try. It is exciting to hear her talk about the messages and theories we use at Grace Village and how she has applied them into her personal life. While I was sitting there with my friend, I realized there was so much I still didn't know about her and how much I still want to know about her. I am actually planning a weekend to go visit her home and to see what her life is like outside of work. Maybe go to her English school and meet some of the people that are important in her life.

Last week, I also started talking with one of the staff members at our village. He is a 21 year old male that is finishing his high school education. He shared with me about his life, and I asked him about his cultural food patterns. I uncovered a whole host of information that made a more "clear" picture for me about his generation, his family, and the food environment in Haiti. My friend is the oldest of 6 children and his mother is widowed. While growing-up, his mother sold things in the market. When I asked what kinds of things she sold, he said like clothes and shoes. His mom didn't always make enough money to send him to school each year. When he was only 6 years old, he learned how to cook and prepare food for him and his family. He said he made things like: rice and beans, spaghetti, and sweet potatoes with milk. When he was 9 or 10 years old, his mother started working at a mission near his house as a cook (she still works there today). At that time, he learned how to wash his own clothes and to prepare his own uniform for school. He grew up a very independent child--- able to care and provide for himself. Today, he is finishing school and would someday like to go to a university to become a general mechanic. During our conversation, we continued to talk about other things in Haiti and about nutrition. He told me his grandparents have a farm on the countryside. They grow things like pitimi (sorghum in English), beans, and peanuts! I told him I want to visit them sometime. When I asked him what kinds of foods his grandparents ate, he told me--pitimi (sorghum), corn, cassava. They make soups like Tchaka, and they make a bread called "Casav" out of the cassava. He told me they don't eat rice and beans everyday. It sounds a lot like his grandparents have retained their true African Roots. My friend also told me her grandma doesn't eat a lot of rice either and that she doesn't cook with Maggi (the artificial flavored seasoning packet I am fighting with). These conversations make me wonder what happened to these last few generations..... how has the nutrition transitioned? How has the food aid programs and missionary influence changed the cultural food patterns? Furthermore, how are these transitions and influence impacting the environment, malnutrition, and poverty in Haiti? This is a big investigation.

When I asked more questions to my friend, he continued to answer me with honesty. "You know Kristina. When I first came to try your experiments at Grace Village, I would always tell myself before I took my first bite that I wasn't going to like them." He continued on, "But then I would taste them, and I was surprised that I liked them! I like eating at Grace Village because we don't eat the same thing everyday." .... He continued on, "A lot of Haitians like rice and beans. I prefer pitimi and corn for my body. A lot of people like rice and beans because they are "cheaper" and easier to prepare/ cook." He went on to tell me about how people need to make a sauce when they eat pitimi and corn, they can't just eat it plain. Where as with rice, people don't need to add anything. I sensed some food perfectionism through the conversation and a lack of knowledge (for the general population here) about how to prepare these foods in quick, tasty ways. He told me that if I asked people here about what haitian food is, they would tell me, " Rice, beans, and chicken." He continued to tell me that in the mornings people eat pasta or corn, they have rice and beans for lunch, and flour milk for dinner. Shocking? Nope, not for me. This was not much different than what I observed when I first came to Grace Village. He also informed me that if people have money, they will eat meat everyday. If they don't have money, they only eat it on Sundays. (class system: diet is related to a class system and status). I learned from him that PEOPLE ARE FOCUSED ON WHAT THEY KNOW THEY LIKE. THEY DON'T LIKE TO TRY NEW THINGS, BUT  HE THINKS PEOPLE NEED TO TRY AND LEARN. (As do I. What people don't know is killing them slowly). After our insightful conversation, I sent him home with a few packets of information about sodium and hypertension (since he mentioned symtoms his mother was currently having. It sounded like high blood pressure), information about a sustainable food supply, and overall general nutrition. I told him to read the information and come back with questions. We spent a whole afternoon answering questions, talking about nutrition, and the different foods available in Haiti and the nutrition they provide. He told me he was so blessed to have this knowledge about nutrition and that he wants to work hard to make changes in his life.... putting in his body what is going to be good for it. I have continued to provide him with resources (how to use fresh seasonings and produce in Haiti to make tasty dishes), as well as followed up with him about what he is learning. It is incredible how much EDUCATION CAN REALLY CHANGE THE WAY SOMEONE THINKS ABOUT SOMETHING...and how much it GIVES THEM THE TOOLS AND THE POWER TO MAKE INFORMED DECISIONS.

Yesterday, I had an incredible opportunity to go to a clinic in Cite Soleil to shadow a Haitian man at work. This Haitian man, now a friend of mine, works at a clinic 3 days a week and provides nutrition education for the 150-200 people that come the clinic each day. He works with some of them individually and helps them to over come their chronic health conditions (more on this in my NEXT blog). The opportunity came about through a conversation with one of the teenagers at Grace Village. One day at lunch, he told me that his teacher taught him about Maggi and that his message was similar to mine. I asked who his teacher was and he said it was his English teacher and the man that plays the piano at our church on Sundays. I told the teenager that I wanted to meet his teacher, and he said that I can. Sunday morning after church, I went and introduced myself to the teacher/piano player. I told him my profession is in Nutrition and that I am a registered dietitian. I told him that his student told me that he has learned about nutrition in English class. The teacher/piano player told me what nutrition information he teaches and knows about, especially in Haiti, and I was blown-away. His message is the same message I have been promoting all year at the feeding center. He mentioned that plant food is cheaper and better for you, and talked about the association between diet, lifestyle  and disease. I was so excited to hear him talk! During our conversation, He invited me to visit him at work on Wednesday in Cite Soliel. I couldn't refuse the offer-- I took contact numbers and e-mails and started figuring out how I could get myself to the clinic to shadow. Now I am going to put a pause on the rest of this story because it needs to be a blog of its own. SO TO BE CONTINUED.....
The nutrition team for the day! 

It's amazing how many "puzzle" pieces are starting to come together for my nutrition mission in Haiti. For a while, I was feeling "stuck" in my ministry here. Feeling like the meesage was being under-minded and that it was unimportant. It is hard to be the SMALL VOICE SPEAKING OUT AGAINST THE CULTURAL FOOD PATTERNS, LEARNED BEHAVIORS, AND CONSTANT REINFORCEMENT OF THE OPPOSING MESSAGES. I have been hit with a lot of blows, which have really tested my self-confidence, my self-esteem, my hope, and sometimes even my passion for education and good nutrition. There have been times on this journey where I have felt like packing-up and never coming back again. The opposing forces are so strong, and they come from everywhere--- expat/ missionary influence, food-aid, advertisement, social pressures, lack of education (poor education), folklore and anecdotal experiences, misinformation, poor labeling (etc). It is a constant feeling of FIGHTING, which becomes distasteful and unpleasant after you have been beat-up so many times. Sometimes these forces make me feel weak, exhausted, and powerless. Feelings that are so strong to overcome and ignore.

Over the course of the past few weeks, however, I have felt empowered again. I have been reminded that the MESSAGE IS IMPORTANT AND IT IS NEEDED. ...and small glimpses of HOPE (the puzzle pieces) keep peaking up along this journey.  It is going to be a long tough road to convince a whole population of people TO CHANGE THEIR DIETARY BEHAVIORS AND PATTERNS of eating, but I BELIEVE IN EDUCATION.... and I have been given and have acquired gifts to share, to inspire, and to teach. As I continue to gain confident against the opposing forces, I am learning skills and ways to make my SMALL voice into a LOUD, SCREAMING VOICE. I am gaining confidence... and I am keeping my mind focused on that small glimpse of HOPE.

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." - Elanor Roosevelt

This was a beautiful sunny day in Haiti!

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